Driver Stress State Evaluation by Means of Thermal Imaging: A Supervised Machine Learning Approach Based on ECG Signal – in MDPI Applied Sciences

Traffic accidents determine a large number of injuries, sometimes fatal, every year. Among other factors affecting a driver’s performance, an important role is played by stress which can decrease decision-making capabilities and situational awareness. In this perspective, it would be beneficial to develop a non-invasive driver stress monitoring system able to recognize the driver’s altered state. In this study, a contactless procedure for drivers’ stress state assessment by means of thermal infrared imaging was investigated. Thermal imaging was acquired during an experiment on a driving simulator, and thermal features of stress were investigated with comparison to a gold-standard metric (i.e., the stress index, SI) extracted from contact electrocardiography (ECG). A data-driven multivariate machine learning approach based on a non-linear support vector regression (SVR) was employed to estimate the SI through thermal features extracted from facial regions of interest (i.e., nose tip, nostrils, glabella). The predicted SI showed a good correlation with the real SI (r = 0.61, p = ~0). A two-level classification of the stress state (STRESS, SI ≥ 150, versus NO STRESS, SI < 150) was then performed based on the predicted SI. The ROC analysis showed a good classification performance with an AUC of 0.80, a sensitivity of 77%, and a specificity of 78%.